Human rights, human remains: forensic humanitarianism and the politics of the grave


  • Dr Claire Moon

    London School of Economics and Political Science

Project summary

This project explores the ‘forensic turn’ in humanitarianism and the effort to establish the identities and causes of death of the mass victims of atrocities such as enforced disappearance, torture, genocide and war crimes. It has flourished in countries such as Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Spain and Libya. 

Exhumations and forensic identification carry enormous social force. They represent a powerful way of establishing the truth. Yet forensic identification is a social act and interacts with legal, political and humanitarian imperatives which include accountability, combatting political and cultural denial, and returning the dead to families to assist psychological closure. 

This project examines the emergence, social complications and implications of forensic investigations of atrocity. It provides the first global history of the forensic turn in humanitarianism, investigates challenges and innovations in the field by analysing a case in Mexico, and explores the hypothesis that as a result of the forensic turn we can now argue that the dead have human rights.